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Some Water for All

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Integrated Urban Water Management - A case of Bengaluru


"No water, no life; no blue no green" - Sylvia Earle and "When the well is dry, we know the worth of water" - Benjamin Franklin.


Our planet is known as the "Blue Planet" as 71% of the earth's surface is covered by water. Life exists and settled on this planet around water. It’s the reason that countries are investigating the surfaces of other planets for a lack of life. However, in spite of the abundance of water on the planet, only 0.3 is usable by humans and much of that too is unattainable. The globe is facing the crisis of climate change that is a resultant of the changes in the water cycle with the melting of glaciers and sea level rise. The world is also faced with a massive challenge of water security. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 3 people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water and UNESCO states that 80 per cent of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.


In India too, according to UNICEF less than 50% population has access to clean water. This brings us to the question, that in a land of rivers where one of the greatest civilizations of the world flourished, for a nation where sustainability is the mantras of living, how do we tackle the most important existential need of the right to the access of safe water supply?

Rivers of India and Watersheds.

Image source: archdaily.com, Robert Szucs


With the abundance of river water, India is a land that sees both - floods and droughts of these river systems.  Settlements of this land have had the traditional wisdom from times immemorial to harness water for abundance of produce. This traditional wisdom has also been manifested in the living examples of methods of water management and conservation through the climatic diversity along the expanse of the nation. Just to name a few, the traditional water management systems - region-wise are; the Baoli and Tankas of Gujarat and Rajasthan, the water tanks in Karnataka, Ahar Pynes in Bihar, Bhandhara-Phad system in Maharashtra, Zings in Ladakh and Kuhls in Himachal Pradesh. The varying capacities at which these traditional water management systems works, shows the holistic engagement of both the individual as well as the community that lie deep in the cultural expressions and lifestyle. However, in the quest for rapid urbanization coupled with issues of urban poverty, flooding and climate change; Indian settlements have been continually expanding away from the traditional wisdom.


Cities being dense settlements on comparatively smaller footprints of land strain the balance of consumption and recharge, drawing all forms of energy, especially water, from over hundreds of miles; rendering the hinterlands of the cities parched to meet their demand. Even though, the modernistic planning regime did bring convenient piped water supply to our homes, the ever sprawling Indian city, added expenses to our lifestyle, larger carbon footprints to draw this water to reach our taps and legalities to our right of access to urban water.  Modern cities are also centralized systems of land administration and supply of services like water supply, waste water and solid waste management; vesting greater accountability with the state. However, this has slowly diminished the consciousness about the role of the individual and community participation regarding consumption and recharging the resources of the land. Also, the exponential growth of urban areas has not given enough time for the centralized systems to mature and adapt in creating sustainable solutions in managing the water demands of the settlement.


Urbanization, results in the reduction of permeable surfaces like marsh, agricultural land, forests, etc and increase in non-permeable surfaces due to roads, paved areas and the built form itself. This increases the surface runoffs and reduces the percolation of ground water creating an issue of the storage of additional surface water. In addition, cities generate waste water that is sent to central sewage treatment plants (STP), again through expensive piped infrastructure. However, the treated water from these STPs is rarely replenished back to the source. This increases the life cycle duration for the waste-water to be accessible for human consumption again making the water practically unavailable to the local settlement. The issue of water supply and the management of waste water combined calls for an integrated approach to tackle water security. More often than not, the issue of urban water management becomes the sole responsibility of state as principally these services are provided by the local authorities. However, if we look deeply it is actually a threefold network between the citizen, the community and the state.


Effect of Urbanization on the Water Cycle. Image Source: S. Vishwanath, Master class 06, Practical Cities


With the background of the above discussion, the efforts of the city of Bengaluru are worth a discussion through the various policies and initiatives adopted towards Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM). The city mandates rainwater harvesting in their by-laws as per the total amount of roof area and paved areas constructed in each plot, thereby creating accountability at the citizen and institutional level. A few projects like the 'Rainbow Drive' in Bengaluru have explored the potential of ground water use and recharge within a larger settlement of people thereby engaging the community. Larger city-level water management initiatives have looked at feeding the urban waste water into a riparian region of a large water body where the waste water not only gets filtered before being poured into the lake or tank, the sludge from the waste water serves as manure and the nutrients in the water act as fodder for pisciculture. Such a symbiotic approach not only creates environmentally sustainable solutions but also takes care of water security for hinterlands and food security for the city along with generating other livelihood opportunities both for people in the agricultural sector as well as skilled professionals like hydrologists, planners, advocates that can engage with the urban water management issues as individuals. Thus, management of water is not a question of water supply, but that of the design of the system - that engages the individual, community and city while it reduces, reuses and recycles water to keep the wheel of life and survival moving.


The blog is based on the Master Class 06 by Mr. S. Vishwanath (Director, Biome Environmental Solutions) that details out the importance of various scales at water management can be carried out to create more sustainable and livable cities. The master class presents various projects from the city of Bengaluru, looking at possible sources of water systems in a city and how they can be integrated and managed.


Keywords: City, practical cities, urban studies, urban management, urban planning, water, integrated urban water management, Bengaluru


Blog by Enakshee Bhatia


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References:

1. https://www.thebetterindia.com/61757/traditional-water-conservation-systems-india/

2. https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/18-06-2019-1-in-3-people-globally-do-not-have-access-to-safe-drinking-water-unicef-who

3. https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/water/

4. https://www.unicef.org/india/what-we-do/clean-drinking-water

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About the Speaker

S. Vishwanath popularly known as the rain man of Bengaluru is the director at Biome Environmental Solutions. He has over three decades of experience in the water, waste-water and sanitation sector and has been instrumental in designing and advocating the need for the design of rainwater harvesting, aquifer recharge, wastewater recycling and ecosan systems.

He is also a member of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance(SUSANA) a global alliance working towards sustainable sanitation, the International Water Association (IWA) and a regular columnist for the weekly column 'water-wise' for newspaper 'The Hindu' for the past 12 years.

To know more about his work, visit their website https://www.biome-solutions.com/

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About the Writer

Enakshee Bhatia is a practicing Architect, Urban Designer and Academician from Mumbai who is passionate about exploring inter-disciplinary approaches towards urban transformation. She believes that writing is a crucial medium of engaging with society to better the practice of architecture and urbanism

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